Working in an entrepreneur-led business can be an incredibly exciting experience. It offers opportunities to play a major role in the direction of the business, and be a real part in creating a success story...
Working in an entrepreneur-led business can be an incredibly exciting experience. It offers opportunities to play a major role in the direction of the business, and be a real part in creating a success story.
But dealing with a hands-on owner can have its own challenges! Ultimately, the business is there because of their vision and passion, and they’re often fully invested (emotionally and financially), so letting others take control can be a wrench.
As a senior leader, you’re the link that can pull this together. In achieving that, managing your entrepreneur is just as important as managing junior staff. It’s only when they step back that others can step up and utilise their skills to the max.
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Delegation, Communication, and Continuity
I’ve spoken with hundreds of senior leaders in entrepreneurial businesses over the years. And although every business has its own unique challenges, you can combine the most common issues under three broad headings: delegation, communication, and continuity.
While the entrepreneur is in charge of directing the show, it’s their team that has to deliver. Combining entrepreneurial ambition with achievable goals for the team is easier said than done. That disconnect between the two can often be the result of poor delegation.
If the team doesn’t understand what they’re delivering and how to go about that, or if the entrepreneur isn’t seeing their ideas taking shape, both become frustrated, and often begin working against, not with, one another. It’s the role of management to avoid this happening!
When passions run high, communication can be less than clear. But it’s really nothing to do with ego, there are good reasons why communication in growth businesses poses particular challenges.
If owners have worked by themselves to get the business going, they aren’t used to having to justify their decisions to others. That can be problematic as the team grows. In addition, the entrepreneur is inevitably clearer on the vision than the rest of the team, so can miss out vital information when communicating their plans, or become frustrated by being asked questions that are ‘obvious’ to them. They’ve also probably tried many of the team’s suggestions before, but by rejecting them, that can come across as dampening creative thinking.
Finally, when entrepreneurs do delegate, they sometimes plunge themselves back into the business at inconvenient times, disrupting the day-to-day flow, and undermining the team. Or they might decide to shift the goals at a moment’s notice, causing disruption.
But at the end of the day, innovation is what sets growth businesses apart. So finding a way of managing entrepreneurial innovation while also creating a good environment for your team to work in – managing upwards as well as down – is your job!
Of course, the entrepreneur needs to make the decision to step back in order to enable their team to delegate (and you to manage properly). But you can help that process by working out, with your entrepreneur, what their most valuable contribution to the business is, and which areas they need to leave to other team members.
Part of that is about giving some honest (but tactful!) feedback on where you think the business can gain most from them. The other side is that you will have a much greater understanding of your team, from working with them day-to-day, than the owner will. So make sure they know how competent your team are, and trust so the entrepreneur will let them get on with it.
Create good communication behaviours
As a manager, it’s quite likely you’re more experienced in getting teams to communicate properly than the entrepreneur is. So use that experience to manage the entrepreneur by creating and enforcing the right behaviours. That might mean, initially, ensuring you have time to create a coherent and clear plan for the business going forward, to start with complete clarity.
Once you have that, keep your entrepreneur on the straight and narrow by demanding they follow processes just as your team do! That might mean avoiding ad hoc meetings and informal emails and keeping any major comms to formal team meetings, or even having it go through you to avoid any inconsistencies. Keeping good email and meeting records to refer back to will help to maintain consistency and avoid people blaming one another if things are missed or misremembered.
Manage the space
If you can, I think it’s hugely helpful to get the entrepreneur out of the office for at least part of the time. Their presence can undermine management, and it’s just as helpful for them to get the time and space to concentrate on their work, as it is for you, and the team as a whole.
Could they relocate to another office, or work from home for part of the week? That will give you the breathing room to entrench the right processes and division of labour that will let the business grow, and ensure that the whole team is thriving.
As a senior leader, you need to consider your approach too. You need to think big and bold to keep the business moving towards its vision, and not get stuck in the daily challenges and problems. As well as managing your entrepreneur, learn from them to challenge your own thinking and spot new opportunities.
Jane Gomez is Director at Prelude Group - whose mission is to help make Britain the most enterprising nation in the world. Prelude is home to The Supper Club, the membership club exclusively for fast-growth entrepreneurs, and The Directors Club, offering peer learning and strategic development for directors.